Xenosaga Episode III - preview

When you encounter enemies while riding in your wicked-looking E.S. mechs, things take a bit of a left turn from what you know. It's still all turn-based, of course. Every turn, you have a fresh store of energy to draw from; each attack uses up some of that energy. If you manage to pull off enough attacks in a row, your partners will automatically join in for free damage. As the back-and-forth continues, you'll start to build up Anima, the force that drives your best attacks. Each mech has three devastating specials - requiring either one, two or three filled up Anima gauges to activate.

It's all relatively standard stuff when picked apart like this, but put back together again on the TV screen, it should all offer a challenge comfortable to fans of the more staid combat of the original game in the trilogy. As with the battles, the skill system will be familiar to anyone who's fired up an RPG on the PS2, too - an array of dotted lines, each revealing a skill, ability or stat-boost you'll unlock by spending points in between battles. Right now, we're just satisfied to see the series getting back up to standard so we'll reserve judgment on whether or not that ends up being enough of an improvement for the review.

In fact, what might be most exciting about what we saw isn't the details of the battle and skill systems, the polished-up graphics that mark the end of the PS2 or the final appearances of characters we've spent the last several years learning so much about. No, it's the palpably dark and desperate mood of the game that earmarks it as the last in a saga.

T-elos is cold - even cruel - and unyielding. All of the enemies sneer and snicker, projecting their menace into the darkness of space. Something's brewing, and it spells the end of this saga. That's something to get really excited about, given the space-borne speed bump the last game marked for the series' story. The themes of Episode III's tale have boiled down to the most crucial - the meaning of existence. That's fitting for a game series that takes its subtitles from German existential philosophy, and it's also fitting for a series that wandered off its path. Episode III seems set to justify Xenosaga's existence, and if does, it should be a hell of a journey.

To get a fresh look at Xenosaga Episode III, be sure to click the Movies tab above - we've posted two new trailers.